Researchers from the Peninsula Medical School, working in collaboration with colleagues from Glasgow Royal Infirmary and the University of Brighton, have used a unique collection of pancreas specimens taken from patients who died soon after diagnosis of type 1 diabetes to show that they respond to the ongoing process of destruction by inducing their islet cells to proliferate.
The findings are important because, until now, it has been generally believed that, in humans, beta cells divide only very infrequently after the first year or so of life and that they do not readily proliferate once type 1 diabetes is diagnosed. By studying the same unique collection of pancreas specimens that last year led the research team to conclude that some cases of type 1 diabetes may have a viral cause, this current study presents evidence that there is a 10-fold increase in islet cell replication in patients recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. A similar response had been seen previously in an animal model of type 1 diabetes by a member of the team, Professor Adrian Bone (University of Brighton) but it was not known if accelerated ?-cell replication also occurs in human patients.
The results of the research offer the hope that it might one day be possible to encourage a newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes patient’s own beta cells to reproduce as a means of replacing those being destroyed by the disease. The development of such a therapy could mean that some type 1 diabetics would be able to produce their own insulin for a longer period, thereby reducing the need for pharmaceutical interventions.